Reader Mac asks how sweet cherries compare to sour cherries when they’re in pie form. Fair question, Mac! As far as I’m concerned, sour cherries are the only cherries when it comes to making a filling for a pie, tart, Danish or blintz.
What is it about sour cherries that make them superior for baking? If I had to boil it down to any one thing I’d say it’s the acidity, which gives a filling or a preserve more complexity. Also the flesh of the most common sour cherry cultivar, the amarelle, is very tender, much more so than that of a Bing or especially a Rainier cherry. Because of that, sour cherries break down quite a bit more when they’re cooked or baked, and that makes for a more tender and delectable eating experience. Sadly it’s that tender flesh — which is almost plum-like — that makes them very hard to ship.
Sour cherries have been around for thousands of years, growing right alongside various sweet varieties. All of them originated in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The Romans loved sour cherries, so much so that they spread them all around their empire, including Britain, where they took off to say the least. Sour cherries were especially in vogue in England the 1600’s, which by no coincidence is about the time they landed in America. Today Michigan is responsible for the bulk of the American sour cherry crop (about 90%), though they’re also grown in Utah and Washington State.